Marhabtayn Summer Intensive Arabic 2021 Wrap-Up

Posted on August 6, 2021 by Alta Schwartz

In June, Alif’s team of staff, instructors, and students embarked on a new and exciting adventure with the launch of Marhabtayn, our Domestic Summer Intensive Arabic Program. Envisioned as a unique, robust, and engaging program that fully meets the needs of today’s Arabic language students, Marhabtyan paired Cornell University’s Arabic curriculum with Natakallam’s Conversational Partners and Refugee Voices, and Alif’s own critical intercultural communication and community-based experiential learning. In line with our commitment as a community member of the Greater Atlanta Coalition for Global Education and Research (GAcGEAR), we designed the Marhabtayn program to graduate students with global competence, ready to compete in the 21st-century workforce. 

The majority of the grants and scholarships for Marhabtayn were provided by Qatar Foundation International (QFI), a US-based non-profit organization supporting K-12 Arabic programming, as well as funding and support from the Atlanta Global Studies Center (AGSC) and the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) program. In addition to local students,we were very excited to accept high school students from North Carolina, Texas, and California!

The entire program ran for six weeks, with three options: five weeks in Atlanta and one week in Detroit, just the five weeks in Atlanta, or just the one week in Detroit. Some students chose the full six weeks, others five weeks, and many the one-week (Detroit only) option. Assessments included a pre and post-oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), pre and post-Intercultural Sensitivity Scale (ISS), self and observer reflections, roundtable discussions, meme/picture/word of the day, and quizzes/tests. 

During the first five weeks (in Atlanta), Marhabtayn students spent the first half of their day studying Arabic language with instructors Jihan Hasan and Sahar Hashem. The second half of the day was reserved for cultural activities (music, art, calligraphy, dance, cooking, tours, etc), conversation partners, homework, or Arab-American Atlanta community-based experiential learning at shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, and community-based organizations. And, being in an Arab American cultural center, delicious and authentic Arabic food from across the Arabic-speaking world was shared by students and staff throughout the day. We ended our pre-Detroit departure with the trip to Amicalola Falls and rural North Georgia and invited Arabic summer students from neighboring schools to join us. The entire group feasted upon a gourmet picnic (a la Awad), complete with fresh peaches, watermelon, and cider from a local farm. 

Alif Students Take Over Detroit!
Reflections by Awad Awad, Alif’s Public Education Director

The most unique aspect of our Summer Domestic Intensive Arabic program was the addition of an optional of spending a week exploring Arab cultures in Arab-American Detroit. In partnership with the Arab American National Museum (AANM), we packed each day with educational and fun experiences, beginning with an early breakfast and ending late with a critical roundtable discussion. 

On Sunday, July 11,  students met early in the morning at Hartsfield Jackson Airport, except for our Texan Lone Ranger, who met us in Detroit. After settling into the hotel, we celebrated by devouring a Buddy’s Detroit-style pizza. Afterward, we visited Hashem’s Roastery for snacks and breakfast fare and had Beirut-style knafe sesame bun sandwiches from LeBon Bakery. Of course, there was a Walmart run for last-minute things followed by a game of Uno before bedtime. 

Monday, our first official morning, began with a traditional Levantine breakfast of pita, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, za’atar, mint tea, and more. We then headed to the Arab American National Museum for a welcome by Dave Serio (AANM Educator & Public Programming Specialist) and Maha Freij (Executive Director at ACCESS ), followed by a private tour of the museum, a beautiful lecture and performance by Michael Ibrahim of the National Arab Orchestra (NAO), a ‘speed dating’ session with several members of ACCESS and Rima Meroueh (Executive Director of the NNAAC), and ended with a Yallah Eat culinary tour focused on Yemeni cuisine. Thank you to the random Arab-American we met at the supermarket who insisted on demonstrating Arab hospitality and generosity and buying everyone a snack.

After a healthy Middle Eastern breakfast, Tuesday’s adventure began with a three-hour tour of Detroit on Segway, followed by lunch at Detroit 75 Kitchen (#1 food truck in Michigan) and a lecture and a hands-on workshop by comic artist in residence at the AANM. We finished the day at Habib’s (famous restaurant/wedding caterer), where famous Arab-American comedian and lecturer, Amer Zahr joined us. Amer, influenced by Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle’s stand-up routines, led a thought-provoking conversation that also had everyone in stitches. 

On Wednesday, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Iraqi Chaldean community of Detroit. The Chaldeans are Arabic and Syriac speakers concentrated in northern Iraq and Baghdad. Stacy Bahri (Chaldean Community Foundation) and crew invited us with open arms to their impressive community center, country club, cultural museum, and the Holy Martyrs Chaldean Catholic Church. We had lunch at Ishtar and dinner catered by Kubbah House at the hotel. Over dinner, we had the honor of meeting and speaking with Rasha Dimashqi, board member of the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP).

Thursday, we visited Riverside Academy for a highly interactive meeting with majority Arab American and Muslim American high school students. We exchanged perspectives and experiences about learning Arabic and being teenagers, especially living through the pandemic. Meanwhile, our coordinator and chaperones exchanged ideas with Dr. Wafa Hasan, the Arabic Language Coordinator of Global Education Excellence, the largest Arabic charter school in the US, and head of the QFI Arabic Teachers Council of Michigan. Then, we explored the city a little more before our afternoon visit to the Detroit Institute of Art Museum. We ate at two Detroit iconic restaurants, Lafayette and American Coney Island. Afterward, we spent several hours at the Detroit Institute of Art before our dinner feast at El-Chabab, specializing in Aleppian cuisine. 

Friday came the rain! The weather was intense, but we refused to let it rain on our parade, so we took our time visiting the Henry Ford Museum and enjoyed Tastees Burgers, an amazing halal hole-in-the-wall. Before a presentation by Petra Alsoufi from the Institute of Social Policies and Understanding. After a bit of rest and a quick dinner, we visited the beautiful and welcoming Islamic Center of America to watch the evening prayer. 

And, because no class on Arab cultures would be complete without shopping, we visited some tremendous Arab American shops on Saturday morning. We had some raspberry-filled paczki at Chen Modern Bakery and fattah and falafel at El-Tayab. Rima Merouh and her son Mazin treated us to Adeni Chai from Qahwa House before dropping us off at the airport. 

We returned to Atlanta (and Texas, North Carolina, and California) tired but happy for the rich experiences and new friendships that will continue to bear fruit throughout the year. We can’t wait for next summer’s trip!!! 

This program would not have been possible without the creativity, hard work, and passion of the Alif community. Kinda Hanano, Arabic Language Program Director, and Awad Awad, Public Education Director, imagined this program and brought it to life. Our Arabic instructors, Jihan Hasan and Sahar Hashem, devoted their considerable experience, talent, and passion for teaching. They go far beyond the classroom, pouring their hearts into everything they do for students and conveying the beauty of Arabic language and cultures. A huge thank you also goes to our super talented cultural instructors: Teresa Abboud (art), Hassan Hussayn (calligraphy), Suheir Ibrahim (dabke/dance), and Suheil Sedran (oud/Arabic music). Thanks also go to Luke Regan, who studied with us last year and came back to Alif this summer as an intern. 

Our sincere gratitude also goes out to the many organizations and individuals supporting the planning, operation, and funding of the maiden voyage of this unique program. Thanks to Diana Wrenn Rapp at the AGSC/FLAS program; Omar Tarabishi and Tahreem Akhtar (QFI) for helping our students with their scholarship program; Dave Serio, Aisha Zeban, and Diana Abouali from AANM for organizing everything;  Isra Daraisheh for all of her support; Stacy Bahri, Matt, Cloe, Caroline, Dan, Father Andrew, Sister Amanda, and Sister Ibtihaj from the Chaldean Community for their hospitality; Rima Meroueh (NNAAC), Maha Freij (ACCESS), Rasha Dimashqi (CAAP), Michael Ibrahim and Sherry Richards (NAAO), Amer Zaher, and many many others for contributing to the richness of our experience. 

Last but not least, we’d like to thank our students and their families for entrusting Alif Institute with their children. We were honored that these families chose Alif for their summer studies and we enjoyed getting to know them. We already miss the student’s presence at Alif and we look forward to next year’s journey! We will have next summer’s program announcement this fall, but if you are interested to learn more please send us an email.

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